That being said, there are certain steps that you can take to better equip yourself for dealing with the transition from marriage to separation and, ultimately, to divorce. Consider doing each of the following six things at the outset, before seeking a divorce from your spouse in Virginia:
- Go to a marriage counselor. This is especially true if you have children with your spouse. There is a reason why you got married in the first place, and you owe it to yourself, your spouse and your kids to see if there is an option other than divorce. Additionally, even if you can’t save your marriage, a counselor will give you great insight into what went wrong, and how to cope with the emotions that stem from a separation. If, after counseling, you are still convinced that your marriage is irretrievably broken, then move on to the next steps in an effort to protect yourself and your rights.
- Determine what you own and what you owe. Perhaps I shouldn’t be, but I am often surprised at how little many people know about their assets and liabilities. In a Virginia divorce, the court has the authority to divide both marital property and marital debt, regardless of whose name the property or debt is in. With some exceptions, “marital property” is generally anything that was acquired from the date of marriage to the date of separation, and not by an inheritance or gift. “Marital debt” is any liability that was assumed from the date of marriage to the date of separation. In many instances, marital property, marital debt, or both, are substantial. You need to figure out what both you and your spouse own, and what you and your spouse owe, to ensure that you get everything to which you are entitled.
- Determine what your spouse earns. Both child support and spousal support (alimony) can be issues in a Virginia divorce. Most child support cases are determined based on the Virginia child support guidelines, and both parties’ incomes are a critical component to calculating support under the guidelines. There are a list of factors that a court considers when determining the proper amount of spousal support and, not surprisingly, the parties’ incomes are one of those factors. It is usually easy to determine your own income, but often not so simple to determine what your spouse earns. A tax return is a great place to start, but it is not the end of the investigation.
- Review all joint financial accounts and close all joint credit cards. It is imperative that you review all accounts held jointly with your spouse, and note the balance in each of those accounts. If you feel that your spouse may liquidate accounts, then you should consider removing half of those funds and placing them in an account solely in your name. If you do this, however, do not spend the money—and when the time comes, be candid with your spouse about how and why you chose to remove the funds. Likewise, you should close all joint credit card accounts, or if an account has a balance and cannot be closed, freeze the card from further transactions. This will eliminate the possibility that your spouse will run up a huge credit card bill that you may ultimately end up having to pay.
- Inventory household items. Simply go through each room in your house and make a list of all items of personal property. You want to remember what is there so that you can ask for the items that you want. Judges dislike dividing personal property and will often tell the parties to figure out themselves how to do it. If you can highlight a few items that you really want, you are more likely to get those in either a settlement or from a court decision. Also, if for some reason you find yourself in a situation where you do not live in the marital residence while your divorce case is pending, having a list of items reduces the chance that your spouse can sell off personal property and not have to pay you your share of the proceeds.
- Do NOT move out. Most divorce cases are not resolved for many months or even years. If you move out, not only is there a chance that you will be accused of deserting the marriage, but you may also compromise your ability to receive spousal support or obtain a favorable division of assets. Unless you are the victim of domestic violence, it is best to stay in your home at least until you speak with an attorney.
Lastly, you should consult with a good attorney. The divorce lawyers at Livesay & Myers, P.C. have years of experience handling all facets of both contested and uncontested divorces. If you are facing a separation or divorce in Northern Virginia, contact us to schedule a consultation today.